The Japanese are known to be incredibly hard workers. They even have a phrase to describe death by overwork: karōshi (過労死). However, working in Japan has a silver, or rather, golden lining: Golden Week.
Golden Week is a week of holidays from the end of April through the first week of May. With so many holidays falling next to each other, this shining week means that the entire country gets to be on vacation! Some companies even give their employees the entire week off as paid leave. This leisure period gives people time to relax, see loved ones, or travel the world.
Many take the time to travel domestically or even internationally, which makes it the most expensive time of year to travel in Japan. Even with sky-high prices, hotels and transportation are often completely booked for the week. Popular international destinations include Southeast Asia, Hawaii, and major cities on the west coast of the US and Canada.
Golden Week officially began in 1948, with the introduction of the National Holiday Laws. This law nationalized nine holidays and required companies to give time off. More time off meant consuming more leisure activities. Within a few years, there was a noticeable boost in spending during this particular week. Inspired by “Golden Time”, a radio phrase referring to peak listener ratings, the managing director of Daiei Film Company cleverly decided to coin the term “Golden Week”.
Let’s take a closer look at the National Holidays that make up this merry time:
Commemorates the reign of Emperor Hirohito (more commonly referred in Japan as Emperor Showa). Originally to honor his birthday, this holiday is now used to encourage people to reflect on the controversial years of his reign.
Celebrates the current constitution put in place on May 3rd, 1947.
The date of this holiday has shifted over the years. Originally on April 29th during the Showa Period, it coincided with Emperor Hirohito’s birthday. When his son Akihito ascended to the throne, the date was changed and the holiday was renamed as “Greenery Day”, referencing his father’s love of plants. This holiday now encourages people to go out, observe the world around them, and commune with nature.
With its iconic carp flags, this is one of the most commonly known Japanese holidays. Known as The Boy’s Festival (端午の節句, Tango no Sekku), this day originally celebrated the strength and health of growing boys. In 1948, the government declared this day to be a national holiday and renamed it Kodomo no Hi (Children's Day). This holiday now celebrates the happiness of all children while expressing gratitude toward mothers. The day before, families raise a carp flag for each child in their household. The billowing flags resemble swimming carp and are a reference to a legend about a carp that swims upstream to become a dragon. Also on display are a Kintarō (金太郎, Golden Boy) doll, and origami of kabuto (かぶと, traditional Japanese military helmet), symbolizing strength and health.
There have been some updates to specific holidays throughout the years, but what hasn’t changed is the blissful week of free time. Even though some of these holidays aren't consecutive, any day in Japan sandwiched between two holidays becomes another holiday! Even better, any National Holiday falling on a Sunday gets celebrated on Monday.
While each day has a special meaning and intent, the sum of Golden Week is greater than its parts as the vacation time during this week is the real cause for celebration. Since this is the longest break most working people get during the year and they try to make the most of it. It seems like a dream to have the whole week off...perhaps we should move to Japan? Let us know what you’d do for Golden Week!
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